STARKVILLE – As the ball floated into Anthony Johnson’s hands, 100 yards of open grass waited ahead.

Mississippi State was trailing 9-3 at home against No. 21 Alabama with the visitors moving downfield and a couple yards away from sealing a two-score lead heading into the break.

That was until Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson turned from a fake handoff and saw pressure in his face, lobbed the ball up and found Johnson in the end zone.

Fast forward 100 yards, and Johnson is in the back of the opposite endzone with his team dog-piling on top of him after the longest pick-6 in Mississippi State history — which was matched in 2009 by Johnthan Banks.

Johnson’s play gave Mississippi State momentum after a defensive-minded opening 30 minutes. State had 117 yards of offense in the first half, including just four on its opening two drives.

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The momentum, regarded as “the old mo” on the broadcast of the game, carried into the second half for the Bulldogs.

On the third play of the second half, Wilson was intercepted by Derek Pegues to give MSU the ball in Alabama territory.

Five plays and 25 yards later — highlighted by four rushes for 15 yards by running back Anthony Dixon — Dixon punched it in to give MSU a 17-12 lead it wouldn’t look back from after being moments away from trailing 16-3 two possessions before.

Dixon’s 84 rushing yard paved the way for Mississippi State and head coach Sylvester Croom’s second win against the program for which he played and coached.

Croom — a native of Tuscaloosa and the first Black head coach in the SEC — refrained from saying much postgame other than claiming Mississippi State had bragging rights after changing the way people viewed the program.

More important than a win against his former team, MSU clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2000 under Jackie Sherrill. Mississippi State went on to beat UCF 10-3 in the Liberty Bowl that season.

Croom was asked to resign following the 2008 season while Saban’s legacy had just begun.

Saban’s Alabama team has won the last 13 matchups with Mississippi State since the 2007 loss in Starkville. For context, the SEC was celebrating its 75th anniversary during the 2007 season and officials were still wearing white pants with long black socks.

The average margin of victory in the 13 wins is 24 points with the closest game 25-20 game at Alabama in 2014 and the largest blowout being Alabama’s 51-3 win in 2016.

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